Tester responds to security background check audit: ‘We need reform now’

Review finds contractors rubber-stamping investigations, threatening national security

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester, who chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce, today released the following statement after the Office of Personnel Management’s Inspector General published its review of the background investigations done by the Federal Investigative Service, the office responsible for conducting over 90 percent of the federal government’s background investigations. The watchdog found numerous failures in the management and review of background investigations that threaten the integrity of the security clearance process:

“The security of this nation depends on trustworthy and thorough background investigations. Cheating the system and granting security clearances without proper review is not only criminal, it endangers the safety of every American. We need reform and we need it now.”

Tester introduced the bipartisan Security Clearance Accountability, Reform and Enhancement Act to hold accountable those employees found to have engaged in misconduct related to a background investigation and permanently bar them from conducting background investigation work. Moreover, due to the high number of clearances granted each year, the bill directs the President to guide agencies in their determination of who actually requires a security clearance.

Tester aggressively began to review and reform the nation’s security clearance process after Edward Snowden, a former government contractor, publicly revealed classified information in June 2013. Tester held a hearing in his subcommittee that led to the introduction and eventual passage of his Security Clearance Oversight Reform (SCORE) Act in February.

Tester’s SCORE Act gave OPM’s Inspector General more resources to more thoroughly investigate cases where the integrity of the background check process may have been compromised.

Tester also added language to a recent national defense funding bill that ensures local, state and federal agencies do a better job sharing information when assessing the suitability of individuals to receive security clearances.

Today’s report found several weaknesses in the Federal Investigative Service’s (FIS) management and review system. The principal findings include:

  • Two contract employees completed an abnormally high number of reviews-one completing more than 15,000 in one month, some minutes apart.
  • The quality controls provided by FIS’s computer system were inadequate to make sure all investigations were being reviewed.
  • Contractors were unable to provide documentation of required training for a high percentage (29 of 100) of their employees.
  • Completed background investigations, called Reports of Investigations (ROI), were being released without review. All completed ROIs are supposed to be reviewed by a person, generally a contractor, before being marked “complete” and forwarded to OPM. However, an “auto-release” function in FIS’s computer system forwards the ROI to OPM if it is not reviewed within 30 days. Though the auto-released ROIs should be marked with a code to show it hasn’t been reviewed, some of the ROIs were marked with a code indicating they had.